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Carolina Chamber Music Festival performances are developing a tradition of opening by fumbling with the lights. Thursday’s performance was no exception. This is a little hard to understand in the Bank of the Arts, where there is no complicated light board, just some switches; the choices are "‘on" and "‘off." Once that piece of silly incompetence was over, the evening got off to a crisp start with the Allegro from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Catherine French, violin, Melvin Chen, violin, Amadi Azikiwe, viola, and Jennifer Lucht, cello, were in complete rapport, with excellent intonation and balance. To please me they should have played the entire divertimento.
To compile a section entitled “Introduction,” the Mozart was paired with "You Must Meet My Wife," from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, introduced by Ron Raines, of “My Guiding Light.” Raines also sang the baritone part, along with “Ms. Hollatschek,” not credited more thoroughly on the program, although I’m sure she got a write-up in some more elaborate playbill. I believe this to be local soprano Chantal Hollatschek. They were accompanied by Melvin Chen, who plays as fine piano as he does violin. The "‘singing" was mostly just the loud yelling customary on Broadway before body mikes. Chen did his best to keep up with Raines’s highly individual style, but the voice and piano were not always together. Hollatschek was much more careful.
Paired as a “Classical” section were the Tempo di Minuetto and Prestissimo from Boccherini’s String Trio, Op. 14, No. 2, and Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 1 (1830-31). The string playing in the Boccherini (French, Azikiwe, and Lucht) was strong; the Prestissimo had passages reminiscent of Rameau’s “Rappel des Oiseaux.” Chen’s rendition of the Nocturne was pure magic. Eyes closed, one could visualize gold and yellow autumn leaves swirling in a crystal brook.
In the “Jazz” section, a Gershwin medley (by Raines and Chen) of “Embraceable You,” “Somebody Loves Me,” and “Delightful, De-lovely” was bookended with William Bolcom’s "Graceful Ghost Rag" (French, Chen, Azikiwe, and Lucht). The playing was robust but a little jerky; the whole effect sounded like film music from Gosford Park.
The concluding section, “Theatre,” combined Borodin’s Nocture from the String Quartet No. 2 in D (think Kismet), "Lonely Town" from the 26-year-old Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town (1944), and “The Impossible Dream” from Man of LaMancha (1965). The Borodin (French, Chen, Azikiwe, and Lucht) was characterized by finely nuanced passages of loud and soft. “The Impossible Dream” was just that, as far as Raines was concerned, although Chen’s careful piano accompaniment kept it going.
Putting together a program like this was a masterstroke by Artistic Director Jennifer Lucht. My parents courted to Gershwin and musicals like Kismet; the audience Thursday may have been a little younger than my parents, but they were still not a Beetles or Bob Dylan crowd. This is the music they know; their gratitude was apparent throughout the program. They may not know a lot of longhair music like Chopin, but it was clear that the show tunes were what they liked. Cheering and whooping and hollering made up the final applause; it was clear that this crowd liked the music and wants the Carolina Chamber Music Festival to return again next year.